PARIS (ESA PR) — Combining artificial intelligence with many keen human eyes, astronomers have found 1,701 new asteroid trails in archival data from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, consisting of more than 37,000 images that span two decades. The project reflects both Hubble’s value to scientists as an asteroid hunter and how the public can effectively contribute to citizen science initiatives.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Following a thorough evaluation, NASA has extended the planetary science missions of eight of its spacecraft due to their scientific productivity and potential to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the solar system and beyond.
The missions – Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, MAVEN, Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity rover), InSight lander, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, OSIRIS-REx, and New Horizons – have been selected for continuation, assuming their spacecraft remain healthy. Most of the missions will be extended for three years; however, OSIRIS-REx will be continued for nine years in order to reach a new destination, and InSight will be continued until the end of 2022, unless the spacecraft’s electrical power allows for longer operations.
GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — On April 18, NASA decided to move forward with plans to complete the deployment of the Lucy spacecraft’s stalled, unlatched solar array. The spacecraft is powered by two large arrays of solar cells that were designed to unfold and latch into place after launch. One of the fan-like arrays opened as planned, but the other stopped just short of completing this operation.
PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Asteroid 2022 EB5 was too small to pose a hazard to Earth, but its discovery marks the fifth time that any asteroid has been observed before impacting into the atmosphere.
A small asteroid hit Earth’s atmosphere over the Norwegian Sea before disintegrating on March 11, 2022. But this event wasn’t a complete surprise: Astronomers knew it was on a collision course, predicting exactly where and when the impact would happen.
NASA is funding research into hypervelocity kinetic penetrators that would allow for the destruction of an incoming asteroid on very short notice.
The space agency awarded a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I grant worth $175,000 to Philip Lubin of the University of California, Santa Barbara for his “Pi — Terminal Defense for Humanity project.
LAUREL, Md. (NASA PR) — This past month, NASA, FEMA, the United States Space Command, and other federal, state and local agencies convened for the fourth iteration of a Planetary Defense Interagency Tabletop Exercise to inform and assess our nation’s ability to respond effectively to a (simulated) asteroid impact threat to Earth. While there are no predicted asteroid impact threats to our planet for the foreseeable future, this exercise—sponsored by NASA and FEMA and hosted by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland—focused extensively on federal and state government coordination that would be necessary to respond to such a threat should one ever be discovered.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — The NASA-funded Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS)—a state-of-the-art asteroid detection system operated by the University of Hawaiʻi (UH) Institute for Astronomy (IfA) for the agency’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO)—has reached a new milestone by becoming the first survey capable of searching the entire dark sky every 24 hours for near-Earth objects (NEOs) that could pose a future impact hazard to Earth. Now comprised of four telescopes, ATLAS has expanded its reach to the southern hemisphere from the two existing northern-hemisphere telescopes on Haleakalā and Maunaloa in Hawai’i to include two additional observatories in South Africa and Chile.
NEA Scout will visit an asteroid estimated to be smaller than a school bus – the smallest asteroid ever to be studied by a spacecraft.
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (NASA PR) — Launching with the Artemis I uncrewed test flight, NASA’s shoebox-size Near-Earth Asteroid Scout will chase down what will become the smallest asteroid ever to be visited by a spacecraft. It will get there by unfurling a solar sail to harness solar radiation for propulsion, making this the agency’s first deep space mission of its kind.
The target is 2020 GE, a near-Earth asteroid (NEA) that is less than 60 feet (18 meters) in size. Asteroids smaller than 330 feet (100 meters) across have never been explored up close before. The spacecraft will use its science camera to get a closer look, measuring the object’s size, shape, rotation, and surface properties while looking for any dust and debris that might surround 2020 GE.
TUCSON, Ariz. (University of Arizona PR) — The NASA and University of Arizona OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission team has been selected to receive the 2022 John L. “Jack” Swigert Jr. Award for Space Exploration by the Space Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates for space exploration and space-inspired industries.
The award will be presented April 4 during the opening ceremony of the 37th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.
The Lucy spacecraft, launched on Oct. 16, 2021, is now over 30 million miles, or 48 million kilometers, from Earth and continues to operate safely in “outbound cruise” mode. Besides a solar array that didn’t latch after deployment — an issue the mission team is working to resolve— all spacecraft systems are normal. The arrays are producing ample energy, charging the spacecraft’s battery as expected under normal operating conditions.
The current plan supports a latch attempt in the late April timeframe; however, the team is continuing to study the possibility of leaving the array as is. In the meantime, in the lab, they are testing a dual motor solar array deployment using both the primary and backup motor. The testing aims to determine if engaging both motors at the same time applies enough force to complete the deployment and latch the solar array.
In addition to the solar array activity, the team continues to run routine operations on the spacecraft. The next activity is calibrating guidance, navigation & control hardware to ensure pointing accuracy of the spacecraft.
On January 5, Lucy completed a test to look at the dynamics of the spacecraft in order to characterize the solar array.
By Dr. Jack Drummond Air Force Research Laboratory
KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. — On November 29, 2021, an Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Starfire Optical Range (SOR)* telescope on Kirtland Air Force Base near Albuquerque, New Mexico, recorded an image of asteroid (22) Kalliope, and its natural satellite Linus. A confirming image was taken four nights later. What is unique about these observations is the small size of the telescope used, only 1.5 meters in diameter.
Normally the purview of large 8 to10-m diameter telescopes on mountain tops in Hawaii or Chile, asteroids are faint to begin with — and their satellites even fainter – orbiting very close to their parent. Detecting them requires large telescopes, since faintness limits are proportional to telescope mirror area and resolution is proportional to telescope diameter. In all cases, adaptive optics (AO) is required to defeat the turbulence of the atmosphere by making the point sources (stars) much smaller and brighter.
GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — Although the chance of an asteroid impacting Earth is small, even a relatively small asteroid of about 500 feet (about 150 meters) across carries enough energy to cause widespread damage around the impact site. NASA leads efforts in the U.S. and worldwide both to detect and track potentially hazardous asteroids and to study technologies to mitigate or avoid impacts on Earth. If an asteroid were discovered and determined to be on a collision course with Earth, one response could be to launch a “kinetic impactor” – a high-velocity spacecraft that would deflect the asteroid by ramming into it, altering the asteroid’s orbit slightly so that it misses Earth. NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will be the first mission to demonstrate asteroid deflection using a kinetic impactor.
GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA plans to conduct additional ground tests on an engineering model of the Lucy solar array motor and lanyard prior to potentially attempting full deployment of one of the probe’s solar arrays.
The new system improves the capabilities of NASA JPL’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies to assess the impact risk of asteroids that can come close to our planet.
PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — To date, nearly 28,000 near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) have been found by survey telescopes that continually scan the night sky, adding new discoveries at a rate of about 3,000 per year. But as larger and more advanced survey telescopes turbocharge the search over the next few years, a rapid uptick in discoveries is expected. In anticipation of this increase, NASA astronomers have developed a next-generation impact monitoring algorithm called Sentry-II to better evaluate NEA impact probabilities.